Aiming for Three-Peat's Joe Ruiz offers his angle on the 2004 San Antonio Missions. The two-time defending champions sport a fresh field of talent and look to be competitive again this season. Led by Manager Dave Brundage, San Antonio is back for another year of torturing the Texas League.

San Antonio's sports scene has grown accustomed to winning it all over the last few years. The NBA's Spurs have won titles twice in five years and the Texas League's Missions have back-to-back championships. The Missions' quest for a third consecutive league crown began last week with loads of new talent to build on.

One of the main strengths of the 2003 Missions was their all-around pitching, but many stars from last season have followed the path of those before them and moved up in the organization.

This season's team again is equipped with quality, capable starters in without a quality Troy Cate, Chris Buglovsky and Elvis Perez (although Perez suffered a rocky opener on April 12). The Missions expected to have an even more potent starting staff, but lefties Ryan Ketchner and Glenn Bott were both shipped to Los Angeles.

Texas League saves leader Jared Hoerman returns and has already picked up two saves to round out the opening week. Cate, Buglovsky and fellow starting pitcher Gustavo Martinez all currently have ERA's under 3.00.

Martinez is currently leading the Missions - and is tied for second in the league - with 14 strikeouts in 9.1 innings. He has given up only two earned runs.

So far, one of the team's struggles has been their inconsistent bullpen. The pen has allowed teams to stay in the game even though the Missions offense has given them outstanding run support, and often leads to work with. In nearly every game during this short campaign, opposing hitters have used very timely hitting to chip away at big Missions' leads.

What has helped the Missions significantly thus far is their ability to score runs and score them in bunches. They are scoring over six runs per game in their first eight contests, which has led them to a 5-4 record in the opening week.

As in the past championship seasons, strong hitting will be a major factor in the repeat effort. Infielder Greg Dobbs returns from a season-ending injury a season ago, hoping to build on a strong performance this spring. Dobbs was a key component in the Missions surprising second-half leap during the 2002 season.

Outfielder Greg Jacobs has simply been on a tear, batting .600 and slugging 1.533 as of the end of Friday's 9-8 victory over the El Paso Diablos. Jacobs, along with outfielders Shin-soo Choo, Dustin Delucchi and catcher Luis Oliveros have accounted for more than half of the team's runs batted in (27 of 51).

The primary constant between all of these winning clubs has been Manager Dave Brundage.

Last season's Texas League Manager of the Year has already stated that the Missions will need to manufacture more offense this season to field a competitive squad. So far this season, the Missions have walked 20 times, stolen five bases and are batting a shade under .300.

The Missions should have a productive season and be in contention for the top spot in the league standings yet again in 2004 as long as the offense continues to score runs at the level it has so far. They will need the starting staff to settle in and go deeper into games, and the bullpen needs to improve on protecting leads. If all that happens, the Missions could be muttering the words "Three-Peat" by season's end.

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